The Golden Hind
The Golden Hind is the saviour of good, old’ fashioned fish and chips.
There’s a good story in Raymond Blanc’s memoir, A Taste of My Life, where he describes coming to England for the first time and being so eager to sample our cuisine that he started on the ferry, ordering fish and chips, which he had often heard described as “the gastronomic treat of Britain”. He didn’t enjoy it. “Five minutes later the waiter returned with a plate. There was a smell on that plate unlike any other smell I had known. What worried me was that the plate was still a few yards away at the time,” Blanc remembers, appalled to this day. In France, fish and chips is still regularly touted as our greatest culinary contribution to the world. “Un ‘Fish and Chips’, c’est chic!” proclaims one otherwise sensible gastronomic guide.
Up to a point. Most people’s first choice for a takeaway is now pizza, curry or a burger. But it seems fish-and-chip shops are beginning to do better again in the recession. In the eight months to November, they recorded a three per cent growth in business, the first increase for five years, with no fewer than 548 million visits to the 9,500 chippies that still survive. Perhaps what we are seeing is akin to what George Orwell observed in The Road to Wigan Pier back in the Thirties. Instead of succumbing to despair or attempting insurrection, the unemployed working class had taken to the “cheap luxuries which mitigate the surface of life”, Orwell noted, “with fish-and-chips leading the list.”
Just now, it is certainly soothing to find the bill for a slap-up fish supper at The Golden Hind London coming in at under £30. Moreover, the place is BYO, that blessed abbreviation, with no corkage and glasses smilingly produced. So you can drink just as well and cheaply here as at home. Being reminded of how much that saves on the bill makes it truly painful the next time you cough up in a ropey bistro for an indifferent bottle at three times the shop price.
And the place is utterly charming. The Golden Hind was opened in 1914 by an Italian family and claims to have had just five owners since, the current proprietor, Mr Christou, being a relative newbie, having taken over in 2002. He and his Greek staff are warmly welcoming in a way that no native Briton ever accomplishes. The room is perfectly basic — lino tiles, white walls, wooden panelling, simple tables and chairs, all kept scrupulously clean. At the back, where in some dining rooms there might be a dresser, there is a giant antique enamelled fryer, no longer in use except to store the menus. And that’s it for fuss.
The Golden Hind menu is equally simple. The fish is all fresh, direct from Grimsby, save for the most expensive item, halibut steak, at £11, which is frozen and which the waiter rather surprisingly, advised against. A large cod, plaice or dogfish is £7.40, haddock £7.70 and skate wing £8.10, with smaller portions offered at approximately half-price at lunchtime.
They all come in excellent batter, crisp all the way through to the fish itself, with no soggy layer underneath, fried in clean groundnut oil. Alternatively, they can be ordered steamed, that clean taste however being slightly overwhelmed by a scattering of pungent dried herbes de Provence that might better have been omitted.
Some fish-and-chip shop fans, a vocal lot, rate the hand-cut chips here (£1.70 a big portion) inferior to the fish. Maybe sometimes that’s true but on a late Friday night visit they were perfect, with that crunchy exterior and melting core. On a Monday lunchtime, however, they weren’t quite so good, having apparently waited around a while. Otherwise, it’s all hard to fault. Garden peas are just 90p, viridescent but tasty mushy ones £1. A tomato and onion salad (£3) was a bit primitive — large slices of chilled tomato with big onion rings with a single olive and again a scattering of those dried herbs, served with a little glass amphora of green olive oil. As a low-fat option you could enjoy the superb fish with this as a relish rather than the enjoyable but rich sauce tartare.
For if you are used to living low-fat and then eat a whole fried meal — including, say, homemade cod fishcakes (£3.20) or battered calamari (£3.60) for a starter — you end up feeling, a few hours later, or even the next day, a bit like a freshly filled oil sump. But that’s the nature of the beast.
The Golden Hind is surely as good a fish and chip shop as London has to offer, at a very fair price, too, for the West End. The real thing, not a New Brit pastiche. Perhaps, all these years later, M Blanc should give our national dish another go?
The Golden Hind is located at 73 Marylebone Lane, W1U 2PN
Golden Hind opening hours: daily 10am-5:30pm.